March 2010

In our conversation about Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, Vicky asked for my recipe for chicken nuggets. I’m happy to share — I wish I’d started making them like this 10 years ago!

For the five of us I use three chicken breasts, although I’m going to have to start making up a fourth soon — the boys get to the end of their chicken before they get to the end of their appetite! You need: chicken breasts, bread crumbs, seasonings to taste (I use chili powder and a little fresh ground pepper, sometimes some oregano), milk and white vinegar.

You also need two flat-bottomed bowls or deep plates. In one bowl, dump your bread crumbs and seasonings. I use about 3/4 of a cup of breadcrumbs. In other bowl, dump 1/3 of a cup of milk (I’m speculating about the measurements here — that’s why I like cooking instead of baking. Accuracy is not one of my strengths in the kitchen!) and drop a capful of vinegar into the milk. I know, that sounds disgusting, but it turns the milk into buttermilk and thickens it up a bit. Trust me! Also, lay out your baking sheet so you have an assembly-line — chicken then milk then crumbs then cookie sheet.

Cut your chicken into nugget or strip sized pieces. I usually cut off the filet first, then cut across the width in two inch strips, so each breast gives eight to ten pieces. Dunk in the buttermilk mixture, roll in the crumbs, pushing down a bit so they stick really well, and place on the cookie sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes at 400F, turning half way. Serve with your family’s favourite dipping sauces!

For a variation, I’ve used caesar salad dressing instead of the buttermilk. It’s a little messier, but a nice variant.

So it’s your turn — I’m always looking for side-dish ideas. Care to share your ideas for a nice healthy side for chicken nuggets?


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Like so many of the best things in life, it’s deceptively simply and devilishly addictive. No, we’re not talking about cupcakes, but about a thousand-year-old board game called Mancala that has overtaken our family like a virus.

420:1000 Mancala TtV

Have you heard of it? I had not. Tristan got a Mancala set (also known as Kalah) for Christmas from my aunt, but we hadn’t gotten around to pulling off the wrapper until the March Break. From the first time we played, the big boys and I were hooked. We got Beloved addicted within the week.

Mancala is a derivative of an ancient family of games that are played all over the world. It’s about as low-tech as a game can get — and can I just take a minute and say how delightful it is to see the boys engaged by something that doesn’t flash, vibrate, blast electronic warbles or detonate aliens? You have a small wooden board with six small ‘pits’ laid out in two rows, and a big ‘pot’ at either end. You start out with four beads in each of the little pits. In any given move, you simply scoop out the beads in any of the pits in front of you and move counterclockwise around the board, depositing one bead in each pit. Play continues, usually for 10 to 15 minutes, until one player has no beads left in front of him or her. Player with the most beads in their pot at the end wins.

Here’s a complete set of rules from the (I swear!) official Mancala wiki. They use the term “seed” instead of bead, and the “kalah” is the big pot at your end of the board on your right side. The “store” is your opponent’s kalah.

Play is counterclockwise. The seeds are distributed one by one in the pits and the players own kalah, but not into the opponent’s store.

If the last seed is dropped into an opponent’s pit or a non-empty pit of the player, the move ends without anything being captured.

If the last seed falls into the player’s kalah, he must move again.

If the last seed is put into an empty pit owned by the player, he captures all contents of the opposite pit together with the capturing piece and puts them in his kalah. If the opposite pit is empty, nothing is captured. A capture ends the move.

The game ends when a player has no legal move and the remaining pieces are captured by his adversary. The player who has captured most pieces is declared the winner.

Devilishly addictive, dead simple, and oooh, pretty colours. What’s not to love?

The beauty of the game is that you could play it anywhere, with anything. You could play it on the beach by drawing your pits and pots and using stones; one of my Flickr friends mentioned she made a set out of an egg carton. And you can get high-tech, too: there are online versions and yes, there’s an app for that. I’ve resisted the digital versions, though. Something about the tactile interaction with those glass beads really enhances the game for me!

Everyone who has played seems to love the game, so I’m a little surprised to have never heard of it before. Have you played? If you haven’t, I highly recommend it for your next rainy day or family game night. I see many, many hours of Mancala tournaments in our future!


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I admit, although I’d heard of Jamie Oliver before yesterday, I had only the vaguest idea who he was. A friend of mine cooked up some of his recipes for a dinner party once, and I was impressed. But I’d heard he called feeding your kids junk food child abuse, and I was not impressed. So it was simple curiousity coupled with a lack of anything more compelling to do that made me tune in to his new TV show last night.

In case you, like me, have been under a rock for the last half decade or so, here’s the backgrounder: Jamie Oliver is an admittedly fetching British chef who seems to star in most of the shows on the Food Network. He’s a one-man empire: beyond the multiple TV shows, he’s got a product line with in-home parties, books, cafes and cooking schools, and a couple of restaurants. He’s taken on the cause of leading a movement in healthy eating and wholesome cooking, especially for school children, and turned it into a six-episode TV series. In Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, he takes his message to Huntington, West Virginia — the “unhealthiest city in America” — where he helps families and a school cafeteria learn how to eschew the ubiquitous chicken nuggets and pizza for simple, unprocessed and nutritional meals made of real food.

Which brings us to last night’s show. In fact, there were two — I made it through one and a half before I ran out of steam and PVRed the rest.

I went in cynical. I’d bristled at the attribution I’d read, where he said feeding your kids junk food is equivalent to child abuse. I am very cognizant of what my kids eat, and feed them healthy, wholesome, home-cooked meals most of the time. But you know what? They also get McDonalds and pizza and (gasp!) chips, and a lot of the other crap kids love. Occasionally. And I’m fine with that.

But by half way through the first episode last night, I was hooked. This is not the “Wife Swap” brand of exploitative reality television that I was expecting. He seems genuine in his belief that by empowering one family, one school, and by extension one small city, he can sow the seeds of real change in how America eats. Not only do I think he is genuine in his belief, but I think he may just achieve what he’s set out to do.

Of course, in me he is preaching to the choir. I look back over the last ten years and am amazed at how my outlook on food has changed since we had kids. Even over the last year and a half, I’ve radically changed how I choose and prepare dinners. In fact, I’ve more or less taught myself how to cook real food from scratch, something I rarely did before we had kids. Turns out that convenience foods are neither the best nor the easiest choice — didn’t see that one coming!

For instance, I’ve gone from buying frozen chicken nuggets in a box to making my own with shake and bake to making my own with bread crumbs and buttermilk. And you know what really surprised me? It takes only a few minutes longer, but it tastes so much better! I make hamburgers from ground beef instead of buying boxes of frozen patties. I serve a fruit or a vegetable to the boys with every single meal. I found out the boys love certain types of salad, so we serve those often. Simple things that we weren’t doing just two years ago. Small things, but important things that are cutting out heaping helpings of preservatives and sodium and mystery ingredients.

This is in pretty sharp contrast with the obviously overweight family that Jamie took under his wing in last night’s episode. They had stacks of frozen pizzas in the fridge for snacks, and their deep fryer was the most-used appliance in their kitchen. When Jamie cooked up an entire week’s worth of their food — largely pizza and pogos and fries — it was alarming not only in its quantity but in its uniform golden brown colour.

Even more disturbing was the school cafeteria that served pizza for breakfast, fried food at every meal and neon-coloured milk. I have a hell of a time making sure three kids eat properly at lunch time each day, so it can’t be easy to manage 400 of them, but I’m still trying to figure out if it was the sheer wasted food or what they were eating that was more disturbing to watch. (Much was made of the six-year-olds who confused potatoes and tomatoes, but even my kids who have grown tomatoes in the garden and eat them regularly occasionally confuse the similar-sounding words.)

Overall, I think some of the conflict in the show was gently contrived, but they generally stayed away from overt exploitation or holier-than-thou mocking of the residents of Huntington. There’s little arguing with his message, far as I’m concerned, and I wish him every success in evangelizing it.

Did you watch it? What did you think? Is this just another way for Jamie Oliver to line his own pockets, or might he really achieve his noble goals? And if this isn’t the way to wean the populace from pogos and chicken nuggets — what is?

Edited to add: I should have thought when I was writing this to link to the newly launched “Know More Do More” campaign in Ottawa. Check them out for healthy active living tips for families!


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You might have noticed I haven’t been putting up a weekly post with my pictures lately. That’s because I’ve gotten a little lazy with the picture-every-day concept. (As you might also have noticed, I’ve gotten a little lazy with the blog-post-every-day concept, too. I wish I could tell you it’s because my house is now sparkling clean, or that I’ve been diverted by something else equally engaging, but no. I’ve just been a slacker.)

But I am feeling all fired up and excited about photography again, in the lull that has followed the end of the 365 project. Guess what I’ll be doing for 11 weeks this spring-into-summer? I’ve registered for a course called “Beyond the Basics” with SPAO (the School of the Photographic Arts: Ottawa.) How awesome is that? I am beyond excited, and get a little giddy each time I think about it!

Here’s a bit of the precis:

Areas of study will include: mastering camera controls, using light evocatively, understanding composition, controlling colour, file management, digital darkroom manipulation, and inkjet printing procedures.

Gallery visits, discussions and lectures will inform you of the history of photography and create an awareness of the many genres of contemporary photography. Students will be encouraged to pursue a personal mode of expression such as portraiture, landscape, architecture, still life, etc. and build a portfolio of images. Assignment work will be evaluated on a one-to-one basis providing feedback on technical skills and aesthetic vision.

It’s been a looong time since I’ve taken a photography course. Maybe a decade or so ago, I took an Intro to SLR or something type course through Algonquin. Here’s how long ago it was: I didn’t even own a digital camera yet, and we had to submit all our assignments on slides. Seems positively chisel-and-tablet from today’s perspective!!

Over the course of the last year or so, I think I’ve read at least 20 books on photography, not to mention the various online resources I’ve perused. What I’ve really yearned for, though, was that one-on-one critical evaluation and feedback. And the best part is that the course is Friday nights through May, June and July — is there any better time to be hanging out down in the Market with my camera? Seriously, I am giddy!!

Okay, and back to the present, here’s what I’ve been seeing lately.

You already saw the Star Wars post, but seriously, how often do you get to take your kids’ portrait with Darth Maul? I thought it bared repeating.

414a:1000 Welcome to the Dark Side

(Shhh, don’t tell, but it’s a fake TtV. It was actually a crummy shot — drives me crazy that after all this time with a camera, I can still freeze up at key moments! — and I’d thought that a little TtV treatment would enhance the inherent geek factor. It works, I think!)

You’ve also seen this one from the NAC’s Mysterioso show, but I am so pleased with the movement captured in Maestro Everly’s hands that I’ll risk repeating myself with this one, too!

413:1000 Jack Everly and the NAC Orchestra

This is my nephew, Noah, up for a visit for Tristan’s birthday. Isn’t he adorable?

409:1000 Noah

And speaking of adorable, here’s Lucas playing coy during our sugar bush adventure during the March Break:

412:1000 Peek-a-boo Lucas

And speaking of sugar bushes, a mosaic from our trip to the Log Farm. Maple syrup – from tree to taffy!

411:1000 From tree to taffy!

I really love how this picture of Snowball, my friends’ cat, turned out. I called “You vex me, human with camera. Or, you would vex me if I could muster enough energy to care.” I think that about sums it up!

410:1000 You vex me, human with camera.  Or, you would vex me if I could muster enough energy to care.

This is one of those random finds where I was delighted to have my camera with me to capture. This guy must really love Volvos. And yes, as a matter of fact I did take this picture entirely so I could give it a punny title. Because, as I said, ‘He’s primarily a Volvo driver.’ Primarily, get it? Red, yellow, blue? Primary colours? I slay me.

414:1000 He's primarily a Volvo driver

I took this picture of the butt ends of the crayons because everyone is always showcasing the pointy ends of the crayons, while the butt ends are just as colourful and they’re nice and round, too. Help stop the repression, give equal admiration to the crayon butts!

415:1000 Crayon butts

I didn’t take this picture this week. In fact, I took it back in August, and I didn’t even like it enough to post it to Flickr. But I found it this week, and I really liked the light and the green-ness of it. Maybe it’s because I’m pining for summer? Regardless, I gave it a poke or two in Photoshop and decided it needed its own day in the sun, so to speak.

416:1000 Tomatoes redux

And finally, a little through-the-viewfinder love to finish off the post. I wonder if I’ll be able to work TtV into any of my assignments at SPAO this summer? I love how the colours pop, and I got down low and close to his feet to give it the vaguely distorted perspective. It turned out great, but I can now see that it’s time to clean the Duaflex, all I can see is the dirt! (There was some debate on Flickr as to whether I should in fact remove the dust or not. Many said nay, but I find it a little too distracting.)

417:1000 Lucas on the bench TtV

Regardless of the dust, how much cuter could he possibly be with his red cap and blue jeans and sheepskin jacket? Damn, my toddler is cooler by half than I’ll ever be!


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LOVE this! (Hat-tip to Kate of @mynameiskate on twitter.)


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Beyond Tristan’s birthday, March is a month full of anniversaries. Things that happen in March have a funny way of becoming milestones in my life!

Fifteen years ago last week, Beloved and I met in a bar in London, Ontario. I was in town from Ottawa for the baptism of a friend’s new baby, and was hanging out at a restaurant where a friend of mine was bar-tending, largely because I didn’t have anything better to do. Beloved and the bartender were friends, and he introduced us. Eventually, after spending most of the evening talking about the art project he had been working on at home and his other paintings and sketches, he invited me back to his apartment to see his etchings, and I went. The rest, as they say, is history!

Seven years ago this month, we saw our house for the first time. We weren’t actively looking for a new house, but enjoyed browsing. We happened to be driving home from my parents’ place by a circuitous route, and followed the “Open House” signs. As soon as we walked in the door, I knew. I looked at Beloved and said, “Uh oh.” We moved in a couple of months later, and it’s been the longest either of us has lived in a house since our childhoods. I still love it, even if we’re starting to burst at the seams! Maybe when Lucas is in school full time and daycare is less of a burden, we’ll look at a four-bedroom place, but I have a hard time imagining a place as perfect for us as this house is. Except for a bigger kitchen, maybe. And an extra bedroom. But really, that’s all I’d need!

And, last but certainly not least, 20 years ago this month I started working for the government. (Twenty years! Who would have ever guessed I’d have enough of an attention span for 20 years of anything?!?) I started, way back in March of 1990, at what was then called Revenue Canada Taxation, Customs and Excise. I was a CR03 tax assessor, following arcane algorithms on a flow chart to see if credits and deductions were correctly claimed on personal income tax returns using a red pen and post-it notes.

From there I went on to resolving complex tax cases, and to answering public inquiries. I moved up to program management about the time Revenue Canada became the Canada Revenue Agency, and made the jump into communications a little less than ten years ago. And, as most of you know, made the jump to my current job just a few months ago.

It astonishes me (frankly, it scares me a little bit!) to look back and see how so many of the fundamentally important changes in my life — meeting Beloved, finding our home, starting a career, starting a blog, finding this job — have all been predicated on nothing more than whim and chance. No doubt, the circumstances around those whimsical moments were padded with preparation and hard work and more than a little luck, but to think of how different my life might be if I chose to stay home with my folks that night back in March of 1995, instead of hanging out and mooching free drinks from my bartender friend!

Almost equally astonishing is to realize that my current job — Web manager — did not exist as an occupation 20 years ago. Was there even an Internet in 1990? Surely not one as we know it now. And to think that social media barely came into existence in the middle of the last decade — and now it’s such an integral part not only of my job but of my life that I simply can’t imagine a day without it.

Looking back on the milestones of March makes me feel a dizzy sort of vertigo. I’m more than half way through my career, if I stay on track to retire when I’m eligible at 55, and yet I still have a toddler at home. I’m 40 years old, but I still feel 17 inside.

I’m still more than a little amazed by all the things happened to that oblivious little girl who sat down at a down at a desk 20 years ago, wide-eyed and ignorant. She never would have guessed any of this — but I know for sure she would have been relieved that it all turns out so well!


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In which the Dark Side recruits my kids

21 March 2010 Life, the Universe and Everything

I might have mentioned that we love flea markets. It’s a little early for flea market season, but there was an antiques and collectibles show at the Nepean Sportsplex this weekend, and we thought it would be fun to check it out. About two minutes after we got there, I realized that we’d made a […]

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Magic at the NAC

19 March 2010 Ottawa's hidden treasures

When I was a kid, my cousin Mike always had one of those magic trick kits, and we used to put on magic and music shows for my Granny and Granda. We’d stand on a “stage” by the fireplace mantle, I’d sing and Michael would do a trick or two. I loved those performances, and […]

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Maternal ADD

18 March 2010 Mothering without a licence

I‘ve been trying to figure out if this is just one of those things you have to accept when you’re a mother of three boisterous little boys, or if it’s something I can control. Lately, I have noticed that I am perpetually unable to complete a single task uninterrupted. I open the browser window and […]

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NAC Winner!

15 March 2010 Uncategorized

Ack, I completely forgot that today at noon I was supposed to choose the winner of the tickets to Mysterioso: Music and Magic at the National Arts Centre! Sorry about that! I just ran the comment numbers through the random number generator, and the winner is lucky #3: Suze!!! Yay! Thanks to the NAC for […]

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